Who needs ethics laws? We have real-estate records

First there was a senior Air Force official, then came the "Duke," now it's Rep. Jim Ryun. When will they learn?


Michael Scherer
March 30, 2006 11:11PM (UTC)

Wearing a dun-colored baseball cap, not a fedora, Jack Abramoff was sentenced yesterday by a Florida court. In his honor, the Senate decided to abandon any truly meaningful attempt at lobbying reform. Under the current Senate bill, lobbyists like Abramoff can still finance parties for politicians, corporations can subsidize pols' private plane travel, and interest groups can pick up the bill for senatorial junkets.

But take heart, good-government crusader, real-estate records are still open to the public.

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In a fine story yesterday, the Associated Press uncovered a shifty-looking housing deal between Kansas Rep. Jim Ryun and the U.S. Family Network, one of several nonprofit slush funds Abramoff used during his heyday.

According to the story, Ryun bought his Capitol Hill house from the Family Network for $410,000 in December 2000. He paid $19,000 less than the Family Network had paid for it two years earlier -- an unlikely deal, as anyone who has followed the Washington, D.C., housing market can tell you. The house is now valued at $764,310.

The Ryun revelations come just months after the political life of Rep. Duke Cunningham gave way to bribery charges because a scrappy reporter stumbled upon real-estate records that showed a defense contractor had sold Cunningham his house at a $700,000 loss.

A couple of years earlier, the Air Force's No. 2 weapons buyer, Darleen Druyun, got caught selling her house to a Boeing lawyer even as she negotiated a bloated contract with the company for new tanker planes. Druyun eventually pleaded guilty to violating federal conflict-of-interest laws and was sentenced to nine months in prison.

So who is next?

Update: I credited the Associated Press with the Ryun scoop, but I may have jumped the gun. As a letter writer points out, Josh Marshall says the wire service swiped the story from his team.

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Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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